David Goyer Talks CONSTANTINE and the Future of the DC Supernatural Universe on TV
By Joseph McCabe on July 14, 2014
John Constantine is – with the possible exception of the Swamp Thing — DC’s greatest supernatural hero. So it’s understandable that the company (and Warner Brothers) assigned David Goyer, the current overseer of DC’s cinematic universe, to bring the character to prime-time network television in NBC’s upcoming Constantine. Goyer appeared alongside star Matt Ryan (the spitting image of the scruffy master of the dark arts, pictured alongside the producer above) yesterday in Beverly Hills at the TCA (Television Critics Association) Summer Press Tour, to discuss the challenges of adapting the Hellblazer comic (in which Constantine starred in over three hundred issues) to TV after the Keanu Reeves-starring film adaptation met with a less-than-enthusiastic response from comic fans. After Goyer announced that actress Angelica Celaya would be joining the cast as the comic’s Zed (replacing the pilot’s Lucy Griffiths as co-lead), we joined a small handful of our fellow journalists in speaking with him about the DC supernatural characters and storylines we can expect in the show’s first season. Read what Goyer had to tell us below.
Nerdist: Is there a thought that you could launch a number of DC supernatural-related properties from Constantine?
David Goyer: Yes, the intention is we’ve got DC’s occult universe open to us, and the fact that we have Doctor Fate’s helmet in the pilot is a clear indication we’ll be doing that. And we’re introducing another character from the DC Universe with the first eight or nine episodes as well.
N: In a major way or as a kind of cameo?
DG: In a recurring way, and we’ll see where it goes. But it’s not just characters from Hellblazer. The occult world is open to us.
N: Does the fact that you may want to use one of DC’s occult characters in a future film have any bearing on their appearances on this show, or, as is the case of The Flash – if they [appear on] a TV show, [could] they still appear in a movie?
DG: Yeah, yeah, I think there’s been a decision now that it’s okay to cross-promote these characters. That the audience can take it.
N: Would you like to see the same actors in these roles move back and forth between TV and film, or do you view the films as a totally separate entity?
DG: That to me, feels like a huge headache, but I guess we’ll see what happens. [Laughs.]
N: What makes comic books so right for TV now?
DG: I’m not the first person to say this, but I’ve long said that comic books are sort of the modern equivalent of our Greek myths. It’s also kind of like the farm team is for baseball – you can beta test all of these concepts. But you’re dealing with these outsized characters and outsized themes. Part of it is also that the technology is catching up. Even the stuff that we do in Constantine might not have been possible ten years ago. I’m just fortunate that the kind of stuff that I’m interested in happens to be sort of big with the audiences right now.
N: Why do you think you’re the DC guy? There’s always been sort of a divide between people who’ve gravitate toward DC and Marvel.
DG: I have done Marvel. Blade was Marvel.
N: But in Hollywood terms why do you think you’ve had that special understanding of the DC properties to handle the ones you’ve handled?
DG: I don’t know. When I was a kid I read more Marvel comics than I did DC, and as I got older in high school. Then in college I started reading more DC. I’m not sure why. Like begets like to a certain extent, and Geoff Johns is one of my best friends and we hang out all the time. And I’ve written DC comics, so at a certain point it just felt like that was the more comfortable universe to play in.
N: Comics are serialized. Does that mean they fit the TV format better than movies?
DG: I’d like to think that I’ve adapted them for movies fairly well, but I think that they can lend themselves to TV. We haven’t seen a lot of comic book shows in recent memory. There was Agents of SHIELD last year. But one of the things that’s kind of nice about TV is you can tell more serialized storytelling. Our shows are both episodic and serialized. So that’s kind of exiting, because the comic books are… In some ways, one could argue that it lends itself to that medium a bit more.
N: What are some of the dangers of doing comic book shows right now? Are you afraid of…
DG: Of saturating the market? I guess it’s always possible. One of the things that I think sets us apart from some of the other shows is [Constantine] is not a costumed superhero. He’s not a mutant, he’s not a vigilante. He doesn’t have any superpowers, and so comic books aren’t just about guys with tights. America Splendor was based on a comic book. Road to Perdition was based on a comic book. Ghost World was based on a comic book. Persepolis was based on a comic book. So this is another genre. It’s not a superhero genre. It’s a horror genre. It’s a suspense genre.
N: What are some of the problems you’ve seen with other comic book shows when they’ve gone off the rails? SHIELD got off to a very bumpy start, especially with the diehard fanboys.
DG: I can’t really speak to that. I can only speak to what I do myself. I just try to as much as possible stay true to the core DNA of the characters. So that’s always been my approach. And that’s what I’ve done with [showrunner] Daniel [Cerone] and Constantine, and with Batman and Superman.
N: Could we ever see a character from a DC show on NBC appear on a DC show on the CW, and vice versa?
DG: You mean the same actor?
N: Yeah, the same character and the same actor. Doctor Fate previously appeared on Smallville, though he was played by a different actor.
DG: Obviously you could see the same character because it’s up to DC, but the same actor… I guess if legal could work it out. We’ll see. We want to get on the air first. Sure.
N: After John Constantine, which character from DC’s supernatural universe would you most like to launch into a TV show? Is there one that stands out in your mind?
DG: Some of them maybe we’ll roll out in Constantine and we’ll see.
N: Could alcohol take the place of smoking so that Constantine gets liver disease instead of cancer?
DG: Well, we’ve already shown in the pilot that he’s a heavy, heavy drinker. So that’s quite possible. Yes. Look, I will say that John is a character who – in the comic books, and we’ve stayed truthful to that in the show – he has a lot of addictions. He has a very addictive personality. He drinks a lot, in the comic books he smokes a lot. He’s clearly addicted to danger. So that is an aspect of his character that we definitely want to explore. And the thing with a lot of addictions is that it has a high cost, and that’s something that the “Dangerous Habits” storyline explored, obviously in the film and the comic books. So at a certain point, if we’re lucky enough, that is something we’d like to explore in the show as well.
N: What comic book storylines have you focused on for this show?
DG: It’s not like Game of Thrones where we’re saying, “Okay, we’re gonna do book 3, and that’s gonna be our first season.” But I will say that the first season of our show is loosely tracking a version of the storyline in which John was introduced – “American Gothic.” Certainly that was the inspiration for it.
N: Could Constantine be the start of a franchise? Could NBC [have] two Constantine [based] shows on the air next year?
DG: First and foremost I want to launch this show and have it be successful and get a second season so that we can keep digging into all these amazing stories that we want to tell. But sure, if it takes off, who knows. Absolutely.
N: Could you do the “Hunger Demon” story?
DG: That’s a great story. We would love to do that.
N: “American Gothic” culminates with perhaps a dozen of DC’s supernatural heroes united. We’ve heard we’ll see another DC supernatural character this season – should we just expect one, or can we get our hopes up for more than one as the season progresses?
DG: It’s possible there’d be more than one. But in terms of where we’re at in the storyline so far, we’re only working with one. I do want to be clear though that the show hopefully will be appreciated by people who aren’t just comic book fans. [Laughs.] We’re not just making it for people like me.
N: Warner Brothers and DC have clearly shown a great interest in having you take on different properties of there’s – where do you want to keep that up and where do you want to have time to do your own thing?
DG: Look, I’m doing another show on TV right now that is not [based on] a comic book – Da Vinci’s Demons. And I have a number of products I’m developing that aren’t comic book based. So hopefully I’ll spend some time doing some comic book stuff and spend some time not doing some comic book stuff. I love comic books, I was weened on them so it’s not like it’s a stretch for me. But I have other interests as well.
N: Can you say anything about those other shows you’re developing?
DG: Not yet.
N: Did you have to bring another showrunner onto Da Vinci’s to help out with the load of this show and the movies?
DG: Yes, at a certain point you can only do so much, and you get stretched. I realized I needed help on [Da Vinci's].
N: Has there been a fun or intriguing element of seeing Superman and Batman rumors pop up in the internet? Has there been a fun or intriguing element to that?
DG: I can’t possibly answer anything about that. I’m sorry. Today is all Constantine. [Laughs.]
N: Is the whole show going to be based in Atlanta?
DG: No, no, no. It never was based in Atlanta. It’s just that that’s where she was and that’s where the house is, which is something that’s gonna be his base of operations. But the show will ultimately take place all over the world. It’s a road show. Like The X-Files was.
N: But is it shooting in Atlanta?
DG: Oh, it shoots in Atlanta yes, but these days… We shoot Da Vinci’s Demons in Wales, so we’re able to pull off Renaissance Italy in Wales. If we can do that, I think we can have Atlanta double for other places. We also had FlashForward in LA, and we had episodes that took place in Tokyo. With set extension we can do a lot.
N: How hard was it to find your Constantine?
DG: Very hard. We saw over five hundred people. But when we saw Matt we loved him. He was doing a Shakespeare play with Jude Law, and he had this giant beard. But we knew immediately that he was the guy. In order to convince NBC we had to wait for his play to end and for him to shave his beard. But it was hard. I mean, just look at him – if you know the comics at all it’s like he just leaped off the page. It’s kind of amazing.
N: As a longtime Hellblazer fan, do you have any favorite storylines from the book post “American Gothic”?
DG: Well, “American Gothic” is amazing. I like a lot of the initial [Jamie] Delano run. Garth Ennis had a great run. I mean there have been so many… Mike Carey, I like Azzarello’s stuff. There so much great stuff to pull from. I haven’t even read them all.
N: Are you following the new Constantine book from DC’s “New 52”?
DG: I have been, but I’m behind on my stack.
N: Do you still have your original Hellblazer issues?
DG: I do.
N: Then make the show a hit and you can sell them for a lot of money.
DG: I know. [Laughs.] I’m trying to remember which issue of Swamp Thing I had a letter published in. It’s during the “American Gothic” storyline.
N: Did you do a lot of letter writing as a fan?
DG: I did. I think I only got four of them printed. But I have some of them.
N: Any plans to write a comic book anytime soon?
DG: I would love to if I had the time. I’ve been trying to kick around something with Geoff Johns again.
N: Could there be a DC comic that ties directly into this show?
DG: It’s possible. Sure.
N: Thank you for your time.
DG: Thanks! I appreciate it.